July 1, 2005

New Leonardo Da Vinci drawing discovered in London

By Tim Castle

LONDON (Reuters) - Art curators have uncovered a newLeonardo Da Vinci drawing hidden beneath the surface of one ofthe Renaissance artist's most celebrated works, Britain'sNational Gallery said on Friday.

Da Vinci painted two versions of The Virgin of the Rocksbetween 1483 and 1508. London's picture has long been regardedas an inferior copy of the original now in the Louvre in Paris.

National Gallery curators found the uncompleted drawingwhile researching how Da Vinci copied his original, usinginfrared scanning to see through layers of paint on the Londonpicture.

They discovered two levels of underdrawing: one for TheVirgin of the Rocks, and another beneath for a differentpicture, showing the Virgin with outstretched arms.

"You can never call this a straightforward copy againbecause Leonardo clearly wanted to start something new,"National Gallery curator Luke Syson told BBC radio.

Da Vinci was commissioned in 1483 to paint The Virgin ofthe Rocks by a religious order, the Milanese Confraternity ofthe Immaculate Conception, for a chapel altarpiece.

The 1.9 meter-tall (6 ft 2 in) painting shows the VirginMary kneeling in a cave with the infant Christ and Saint John.

Da Vinci demanded a huge bonus after finishing thepainting, but this was refused and so he sold it elsewhere,with the work eventually reaching the Louvre.

Some years later, the Confraternity asked Da Vinci for areplacement -- the version now in London -- which was installedin their chapel in 1508.

The curators' detective work revealed that after receivingthe second commission, Da Vinci began a new work for the Milanorder, depicting the Virgin Mary adoring the infant Christ.

The hidden drawing shows the Virgin kneeling with adowncast gaze, one hand held to her breast, the otherdramatically outstretched with the fingers meeting the pictureedges.

Syson believes the Confraternity rejected Da Vinci'sproposed composition and demanded a copy of their originalcommission.

"I suspect he was forced to abandon this new very beautifulidea," Syson said. "In a way it's a terrible pity."